Leafy Trees for Cooling Shade

Fan Tex Ash Rio Grande Fraxinus




The FanTex Ash ‘Rio Grande’ gives shade in the summer, golden color in the Fall, and allows sunlight onto your home in the winter.  See it in early Spring, below.

Whether you select a Mediterranean classic, the
Olive tree (Olea europea), or a large, fast-growing Fantex Arizona Ash (Fraxinus) for your xeriscape garden, you will be creating the cooling shade that we all welcome in the summer. Trees planted on the south and west sides of your home will, obviously, help reduce your summer cooling costs.

Here are a few small scale trees that we especially like for the smaller walled gardens so common in the desert. Plus two more majestic trees for a hot, dry climate. IMPORTANT: All these trees are best planted in very early Spring or, better yet, in the Fall. (Plant palms in warm months.)

You can find information about nut trees as well as fruit trees that thrive in the desert on the HotGardens website. For fast growing trees, click here.

olive tree olea europea swan hillOlive (Olea europea ‘Swan Hill’) – the olive, along with the palm and cypress trees, has traditionally been considered the defining tree of the Mediterranean garden style. Grows fast when young and should be pruned to the desired shape starting early. Can reach 30 feet. Moderate to low water usage. The ‘Swan Hill’ variety does not produce olives.

chitalpa tree smaller
Chitalpa (Chitalpa x tashkentensis) – this hybrid of the Mojave native Desert Willow tree (Chilopsis) and the Catalpa tree grows to 20 to 30 feet and provides dappled shade. Drought tolerant.The Chitalpa blooms from Spring until Fall and the pink trumpet-shaped flowers are loved by hummingbirds.


mimosa tree

Mimosa (Albizia Julibrissin ‘Rosea’) – also known commonly as the Silk Tree. A fast growing umbrella shaped tree–ideal to cast shade on patios. A bit messy when the fluffy pink blooms drop. Can grow to 40 feet if it is watered regularly. Remains smaller when watered less.

California Pepper Tree Schinus molleCalifornia Pepper Tree
(Schinus molle) – this Peruvian native grows fast to 25 or 40 feet. Branches droop gracefully and leaves remain bright spring green all summer. Despite its name, the “pepper seeds” are not edible. Low water usage but during drought conditions the branches hollow out and may snap off during heavy winds.


palo verde green stick treePalo Verde (Cercidium) – Its name translates to “green stick” and with one glance you can see the green color on its trunk and leafless branches.  While it is not good for shade in early Spring it bursts into bloom with bright yellow blossoms and for a short while has tiny leaves. Good screening tree. Very drought tolerant so plant in a dry area.

crabapple in fall
Flowering Crabapple
– (Malus) – the masses of pink spring blooms and brilliant orange-red leaves in the fall, not to mention the abundance of crabapples, make this a lovely tree in a lawn. Most of the over 200 cultivars do not grow particularly tall, perhaps to 15 feet, but spread to 20 feet or more wide.  Needs regular watering.

crape myrtle hot pink in bloomCrape Myrtle – (Lagerstroemia indica) – will slowly grow only to a height of 15 to 20 feet in a desert climate. This colorful addition to a summer garden prefers acid soil–instead of the typical alkaline desert soil–so be sure to add organic mulch before you plant it. In addition to hot pink, there are varieties that bloom pale pink and white.


For a more majestic tree: an Ash or Chinese elm

Fax tex ash treeAsh (Fraxinus) – whether you select an Arizona Ash, Modesto Ash or Fan-Tex Ash tree, you will have shade in your garden rapidly. The FanTex Ash ‘Rio Grande’ is especially good because it thrives in hot climates with alkaline soil.  As you can see by the photo at the top of this page, the leaves turn a lovely golden yellow in Fall.  All ash trees need regular watering.  Not all ash trees turn golden in Fall, so be sure to plant the ‘Rio Grande’ variety.

Chinese elm Ulmus parvifoliaChinese Elm (Ulmus parvifolia) a fast grower to 40 to 60 feet, this graceful tree has a “weeping” shape as it matures. It can, in fact, reach a height of 30 feet in 5 years! Some varieties are evergreen, some deciduous. The good news is that it is a low water usage plant once established. It can tolerate regular watering, too, so you can plant it in your lawn to enjoy dappled shade.

For more fast growing trees for hot, dry climates go here

How to select and plant trees in a hot dry climate.
Follow these guidelines and your plant nursery’s written instructions regarding soil amendments specifically for your locale.  Soil conditions vary and are extremely important to survival.

1) Select a healthy-looking tree. If its branches are flimsy or broken, if its leaves are tattered or discolored, if it is lopsided, or will not stand up on its own without staking — go on to the next tree or to another nursery.

2) Select the correct tree for your kind of garden. For example, low water usage trees, such as Mesquites (Prosopsis), guzzle water like crazy in a regularly-watered lawn environment. They quickly grow top-heavy and may blow over in the wind. Better to choose a tree that prefers regular watering if you are planting it in a lawn.

3) Plant your new tree at least 20 feet from the house. If it will be a small tree when mature, you may be able to plant it closer. Large trees should be planted further away to allow for growth to maturity.

4) Dig a hole 2 to 3 times as wide as the tree’s root ball for planting. This will allow the roots to spread easily through the soil. But don’t plant the tree deeper than it is in the container. The crown ( where the roots meet the trunk) should remain exposed.

5) Water your newly planted tree regularly and deeply until it is established. Really soak it! Trees need deep water rather than short frequent irrigation which won’t penetrate to their entire root zones.

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